Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Three/Four Musketeers

Richard Lester's adaptation of The Three Musketeers was only the latest of many when released in 1974, but it arrived with a spirit all its own, one influenced as much by Lester's '60s work as the Alexandre Dumas classic. Even so, it followed the plot of Dumas' novel fairly closely, its liberties in interpretation taken elsewhere. Coming off the success of Cabaret, Michael York plays D'Artagnan, the provincial, would-be swashbuckler who travels to Paris to make his name. There he encounters the eponymous heroes: cynical Athos (Oliver Reed), dashing Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), and arrogant Porthos (Frank Finlay). The trio introduces him to the world of court intrigue as they work to protect the Queen (Geraldine Chaplin) from the schemes of the villainous Richelieu (Charlton Heston) and his followers, Rochefort (Christopher Lee) and Milady (Faye Dunaway).

The Four Musketeers picks up where 1974's The Three Musketeers left off, as D'Artagnan, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos scuttle the plans of Lady de Winter to remove Queen Anne from the seat of power. De Winter is determined to get revenge against the Musketeers, and when she learns that D'Artagnan is infatuated with the lovely Constance, she first tries to foil their romance by seducing D'Artagnan herself, and then by persuading Rochefort to kidnap Constance. She then engineers the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward), a close friend of D'Artagnan; when word of the Duke's death and Constance's imprisonment reaches D'Artagnan and his comrades, the foursome ride off to rescue the fair lady and see that justice is done against de Winter. The Four Musketeers was filmed concurrently with The Three Musketeers; it was originally intended to be one film, but when director Richard Lester realized the movie would be over three and a half hours long, the decision was made to release it as two separate features instead. This led to lawsuits filed by several of the stars, claiming that they were hired under false pretenses and entitled to be paid for making two films rather than one. The actors won their case, but their settlement was significantly less than the salary they hoped to receive. (All movie guide)

The best way, for me, to sum up this film (or films - depending on your perspective) is: Fun, fun and more fun. I have been a fan of this version of the Musketeers since I first saw the film as a kid in the '70's. As I grew older, I began to appreciate the scope of the cast as well as the fact that it was a huge joint effort which was equally shared by everyone involved - though I will say that, personally, Oliver Reed was my favorite and I feel that he amazingly brought an underlying sense of melancholy (which is explained near the end) to his scenes even when surrounded by comedy or action. You don't even need to be familiar with Dumas' book to enjoy this theatrical outing - just wait for a day where you don't mind being in for the afternoon, make sure you have a load of 'comfort food' - turn off the phones, sit back and enjoy.

Richard Lester, by the way, also directed The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help' as well as 'Superman II' and 'Superman III' and, one of my favorites, 'Juggernaut' with Richard Harris. On a sad note, Lester quite directing films in 1989 following the sequel to The Three/Four Musketeers. The movie was based on Dumas' book, Twenty Years Later which bought the Musketeers back together because of a new plot. The movie brought together the original Musketeers as well as Christopher Lee with newcomers Kim Cattrall as the daughter of Milady De Winter and C. Thomas Howell as Athos' adopted son. Another original cast member was Roy Kinnear who had played D'Artagnan's manservant and was known throughout England for his portrayal of a variety of comedic and sympathetic characters. Tragically, Roy fell from a horse during filming causing an injury to his pelvis which lead to his death. Since that time, Lester has only directed one project which was a concert documentary for his friend Paul McCartney.

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